Gene Valicenti is a RI broadcasting legend who serves as the 6 o’clock newscast anchor on the market’s television leader, NBC10 WJAR, as well as the morning drive host on the region’s leading news/talk radio station, WPRO.
During a recent interview, “Mr. 401” reached back to 1992 to describe his experience entering the Providence-New Bedford market with a flood of creativity, and how he never looked back as he built his name recognition.
Gene Valicenti: I came up for a job interview and wasn’t sure if I’d be here for 26 days. And it turns out to be 28 years. So Rhode Island’s been good to me.
Bill Bartholomew (Motif): Did you understand the dynamics of the Providence market when you entered into it? It was a volatile time in 1992. Was it a baptism by fire?
GV: Well, not really because I had worked in New London, Connecticut, which is a neighboring community just down the road. So, I followed the Rhode Island news, and I grew up in North Jersey, and Rhode Island’s a lot like one big Bergen County, New Jersey. It’s kind of the same mix of people, kind of the same mix of businesses. So, I felt very comfortable here.
BB: Channel 10 at the time was the dominant television news brand in Rhode Island. It still is — it’s the “legacy” brand here. What was it like for you entering into a number one, legacy station? Did being around such big personalities (like Doug White, Jim Taricani, Ginger Casey, Gary Ley) help you shape your identity?
GV: If you want to be in broadcasting, you have to believe in yourself because few others are going to believe in you. You have to have a thick skin and the willingness to go out and do whatever the boss is looking for.
At the time, in the summer of ‘92, channel 12 was nipping at our heels at the 11 o’clock news, and then news director Ted Canova wanted to shake things up a little bit at 11 o’clock. So, he hired me with the mustache and a trench coat and he said, “Go out and get ‘em.” And I wanted the job. I was kind of the first guy to do walking standups over here. I brought a whole different style to Rhode Island news, and, thankfully, I was young enough at the time to not listen to the critics who said, “Well, we’re not sure this is right for channel 10.” I outlived all of them!
BB: You’d say you kind of reshaped news in the area, in a sense?
GV: Pretty much. I kind of grabbed the town by the jugular and was running around with a mustache. I guess I must’ve made an impression on Seth MacFarlane from Family Guy. I’m the inspiration behind the recurring news anchor character Tom Tucker, which is something to say.
BB: Some people in broadcasting say, “I’m a journalist first,” but to me, I think it’s a true blend of journalism and performance.
GV: Of course! I mean, you know, these purists should go work for The New York Times or for MacNeil / Lehrer. But if you want to be in local news or any form of commercial television, there is certainly as a performance aspect of it. Do you want people to sit and watch you? You don’t want them to switch out of you. You have to get them in your tent, then have them stay so you can preach to them. So there certainly is a performance aspect of it. That’s why anchor people look the way they look and sound; the way they sound and likability goes a long way toward whether or not you’re going to come back tomorrow.
Listen to the complete episode of The Bartholomewtown Podcast with Gene Valicenti, along with more than 100 other Rhode Island influencers, on your favorite podcast app. Follow me on Twitter and IG @billbartholomew